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December 2012

A Lesson in Printmaking: My Christmas Card from 1992


The completed card featuring excerpts of O Holy Night and a wintery landscape is 6.25"x4.6."


Line work
These 3"x1.5" pen and ink drawings became the masters for the linear artwork that was printed with the now hard-to-find Gocco printer. The right hand image was printed in multiple colors, as seen above and below.

Occasionally, I will come across a long-ago design project of my own that gives me pause. This usually translates to: "Could I have made that project any more complex for myself?" And then this: "Could it really be 20 years ago (or something similarly surprising) that I did that?" Last week when I pulled out a file containing all the workups for my 1992 Christmas card, I had these exact thoughts.

What many colleagues and clients do not know is that I am a printmaker at heart. Having studied printmaking at the UW for 3 of my 4 years in art school there, I will always be drawn to the medium. Further, I began to be a printmaker when in elementary school. How? With potato prints.

When designing a multiple-layered piece of artwork, one must consider these factors:

~what printing techniques will be used to apply the designs

~what paper or papers will be used to carry the image

~what order of printing will yield the desired visual effects as the layers build on top of one another


Gold and color
I chose a handmade, wheat-colored paper over which I loosely brushed gold paint before printing the first background color layer. For practicality, I printed four images at one pass.

Because printmaking requires significant, technical design forethought, and it involves creating indirect works of art (i.e., the artist does not directly apply the ink to the matrix), it is not the universal favorite means of artmaking for artists. Traditionally, fine printmaking (as opposed to commercial printing) has been considered secondary to the art of painting on
canvas or wood panels (early Renaissance). Nonetheless, over the centuries, many reknowned artists have created etchings, lithographs, serigraphs (silkscreen) and woodblock prints in addition to their direct painting on canvas or wood.


Quad linework
Here, the line drawing is set up to print over the gold paint background and the first multiple color layer, thus rendering the landscape detail over all.


Making multiple artworks has always given me a lot of satisfaction. I like the technical process of designing for multiples. Christmas cards are the perfect size for trying various printmaking techniques. The Gocco printer is a device that is a cross between a rubber stamp and a silkscreen, giving it unprecedented potential as a small "printing press" primarily for hobbyists but used also by fine artists. It was a sad day when the Japanese manufacturer decided to no longer market it in the U.S. One can still find the supplies, but the costs for these are now prohibitive for previously frequent users like myself.

After I printed the line drawing layer over the color and the gold-painted paper, I printed the text and border directly onto the cream cardstock. Below you see the guidelines I drew to create a border and a place to carry the excerpt from O Holy Night and a personal message from my family. Once these were printed, I cut apart the four-up images and tipped them onto the printed cards. Messages were handwritten on the backs of the cards. Simple as pie, right?!